Updated: Jan 5
The other night, I had to clean out an old dresser I'd decided to sell. I'd had it for many years and it was stuffed full of ten-years' plus of random things.
In all honesty, I had forgotten there were photos stored in there. The drawers were full when the dresser was moved to the garage. It sat there for several years covered in a drop cloth, hidden from view.
Out of sight and out of mind. A project I kept putting off. May be, subconsciously, I didn't want to deal with the pain that would be caused by the contents of the drawers. May be I just didn't care about what was in there. May be I just chose not to exacerbate my anxiety with the would-have and could-have questions that were sure to arise in my mind.
But... It was time. Time to go through those drawers. To clean out and symbolically get rid of the trash. That dresser was the last intact piece of my former life.
As I opened the drawers, I came face to face with my wedding and engagement photos, along with a few photos of the only two family vacations my ex-husband and I ever took together during our marriage.
I could barely recognize my ex-husband; his face not yet marred by alcohol and drug abuse. I looked so young; I realized how much the tragedies in my life have aged me. My children were so little. Their beautiful cherub faces a reminder of how fleeting and precious the innocence of childhood is.
The wedding and engagement photos portrayed an excited fiance and bride; albeit a slight hint of worry in my eyes. Deep down I think I knew what I was getting into. The groom young, smiling, calm, cool and collected. Easy to see how I underestimated his abusive personality.
The photos from the two family vacations show a smiling couple with young children. Underneath those smiles, stress fractures beginning to show. The forced display of happiness on my face was undeniable.
It all seemed so surreal. I remember him screaming at me right before the flash went off in those vacation photos. Calling me names for wanting to take photos in the first place. Family photos were stupid. I remember fighting back the tears before plastering that fake smile upon my face. I wanted so badly to be a normal family; to have happy memories. To have photos to share with friends.
After the last of the two vacations, he no longer allowed me to take any photos of us together as a family. Over a decade of marriage and the only photos I have of him and I together are the wedding and vacation photos.
I saw myself in my wedding photos, but couldn't connect. I wasn't her anymore. How was I ever her? She was so young and brightly smiling in every photo, years of stress and damaged self-esteem not yet showing on her face. Did these events even really happen? How did I love that man? I wasn't even attracted to the younger version of him in the photos I held in my hands!
Such a peculiar feeling.
I kept waiting for the pain to hit, but it never came. I stood there holding the albums staring in confusion as though I was looking through someone else's photos.
Then I had an epiphany. I was, in fact, looking through someone else's photos.
I was looking through the photos of the woman I used to be. The photos of a woman who panicked when her life was not keeping up with the lives of her friends. A woman who tried to force something against God's will. A woman who thought she knew what her life should be like and did everything she could to make it happen that way. A woman who tried to control her destiny.
Forcing smiles for photos when she realized she had messed up big time.
I am not her anymore.
At the very bottom of the pile of photos, I found one photo that sent such a sharp pain through my heart, my hand flew up to my chest. This was not someone else's photo. It was mine. One of my most precious memories.
It was him. My M.
I loved my ex-husband, don't get me wrong, but not like I loved M. He was the only man I had ever truly loved in every sense of the word. The only man who I could be myself with and the only man who could make me laugh and smile in pure, unequivocal joy.
M. was the man who made me feel safe and secure. The man who accepted my quirkiness and introversion without a second thought. Whose family felt like my own. The man I laughed with, acted silly with, got into mischief with, and loved with every fiber of my being. The man I went to church with. The man I praised the Lord with. The man whom I had always envisioned would be my husband.
I dated M. for several years before I met my ex-husband. I was absolutely crazy about him, but things weren't moving fast enough for me. He was in no rush to put a ring on it. I wanted a ring so badly I couldn't stand it.
I will never forget the day he sat me down and honestly told me I needed to stop tying to control things so much. He promised in due time, but due time wasn't good enough for me.
I then hurt M. horribly with my reckless actions. I ended the relationship and went in search of someone else who was ready for marriage in order to keep my life plan on track.
It was the worst mistake of my life. God put an amazing man in my life and because I was so impatient, unwilling to walk along the path He had set for me and unable to listen to reason, I ruined the prospect of any continued relationship with M.
The tears started falling. There I stood in my garage, not crying over my wedding photos or my ex-husband, but crying over a single photo of a man who showed me what love really was and should be. What a meaningful relationship lead by Christ resembled.
I was in anguish. I could have avoided the abuse, the trauma and the losses I endured if only I had stuck to God's plan and not my own. If only I hadn't been in such a hurry. My life could have been so different. Fulfilling and happy. It could have been fun and not lonely.
I cried for about an hour. I remembered all the amazing times and adventures I had with M. I poured my heart out to the Lord and begged for forgiveness. I thanked Him for the lessons I have learned along this journey; for the incredibly important lesson He revealed with a single photo of my true love ironically placed underneath all of my wedding photos.
Job 1:21 immediately came to me, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
God gave me M. and he also took M. away. I honestly feel the Lord did this in order to teach me a valuable lesson. To teach me obedience. He gave me a taste of the joy that following His will can bring. I chose not to obey, therefore that particular joy (i.e., M.), was taken away.
My life with my ex-husband was not all horrible. I ended up with some amazing children who I completely and utterly adore. I love those little people with all my heart. So the Lord did bless me with some beauty in the wreckage and for that I am truly grateful and I praise Him for His precious gifts.
The caveat here is that the Lord is in control of every aspect of my life. Even though I have made some terrible mistakes, tried to control things, and He has had to take some things away to teach me valuable lessons, I will continue to praise Him because He cares for me and wants the best for me. Despite the pain, despite the loss, He has my best interests in mind. All I have to do is let go and trust Him.
I have no doubt as long as I continue to follow God's plan for my life, as long as I remain obedient and don't start trying to control things again, He will bless me and I can bless Him in return by fulfilling His purpose for my life.
There may not be another M., but there will be something or someone better than I can ever hope for.